Two summers ago, when I leaned over to tie my son's shoes, it felt as though a dagger plunged into my lower back. My thoughts immediately jumped to the trip I had planned just two weeks later exploring the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, the San Juan River valley, and Monument Valley. I was determined to go. I felt as if these landscapes were calling me to find relief in their unspeakable beauty.

Canyonlands National Park That day, I left work early to see a doctor, and was given a prescription for rest, painkillers, and physical therapy. That night, my efforts to sleep were futile. I tossed, turned, moaned, sighed, and finally laid my head and torso off the mattress for relief. My groaning and shifting prompted my youngest son, five at the time, to whisper to his older brother, "What are we gonna do if Dad dies?"

For the next two weeks, I followed my doctor's instructions and made regular visits to a physical therapist. Still crooked, in pain, and determined to go on the trip, I got my gear together, packed up my car, and began the drive to the Needles District of Canyonlands. In the remaining hours of daylight, I explored Chesler Park. An 11-mile roundtrip hike into a world of spires, whose contrasts, colors, and shapes are amplified by the rising or setting sun. I carefully and deliberately made each step on the trail, so as not to aggravate my back. The surreal experience of hiking through such intensely colored rock and spectacular beauty was heightened by the absolute silence and perfect serenity of Canyonlands.

 

That night, my aching back made falling to sleep difficult. Periodically, I crawled out of the tent to take in the extraordinary night sky - billions of blazing stars - to take my mind off the pain.

 

Weary, but excited, I spent the next day at Natural Bridges National Monument enjoying the Monument's signature formations, the three massive natural bridges: Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo. While the bridges can be seen from the road, hiking into White Canyon and standing beneath them is necessary to understand how truly impressive they are. On my hike back to the car, I reminisced on all of the places I've discovered in this state and marveled at the way Utah keeps me in a perpetual state of discovery, adventure, and inspiration.

 

Late in the afternoon, I found a beautiful campsite along the San Juan River at the Sand Island Campground, just outside of Bluff, UT. After setting up my tent, I decided I'd go take a seat on a big rock right on the riverbank. A few minutes later, I observed a coyote walk into the river just a few hundred yards upstream. It noticed me and stopped. Locked in eye contact, I remained absolutely motionless until it decided I wasn't a threat. It moved deeper into the river until the current carried it downstream. It continued paddling to the south bank of the river and pulled itself up a few hundred yards downstream from me. The fleeting interaction, no more than a minute, left me awestruck, and will be an enduring memory.

 

That night, I again struggled for comfort against a ruthless back. I tossed and turned, sleeping fitfully for many hours until I finally fell asleep and woke the next morning to the sun just beginning to shine its rays. With the day's agenda on my mind, I unzipped the tent and began walking around before it dawned on me. My back pain had vanished. I was cured!

 

I'm pleased to say the pain hasn't returned. My physical therapist believes the decision to keep moving and to stay active likely re-shifted my back into alignment. I'm certainly not recommending this treatment for others, but it worked for me. It could be luck. Or, it could be that our five Utah National Parks and surrounding canyon country really are a medicine; an outlet to reconnect the soul with nature and an antidote to our hustle bustle lives of cars, computers, smart phones, and schedules.